Thessaloniki food: culinary capital and food discovery tour
The city of Thessaloniki is known throughout Greece as the culinary capital due primarily to both Western and Eastern influences from the various cultures and people’s that have made this cosmopolitan city a food forward city that treasures and showcases the best of local cuisine, agricultural products and food finished products in the country.
I was excited to find out if it really lived up to all the hype of being the foodie capital of Greece and tasting some of the delicious food that our group will discover and eat along the way. Thessaloniki is celebrated for its many mezedes, or casual eateries around the city. Most featured different takes on local specialties of savory pies, kabobs or souvlaki, grilled fish like sardines, kalamaria gemista (squid stuffed with feta), melitzanosalata (smoked eggplant and walnut tapenade) and bougatsa, a rich phyllo pastry filled with cheese, meat, or sweet custard and all the sweet pastry shops offering honey drip goodness of baklava in so many varieties like this display below.
Central Market tour
I’m on a Thessaloniki food tour of the local markets and specialty purveyors sponsored with the Thessaloniki tourist board where we start things off quickly with a tour of the central food market also known as the Kapani market located just off Aristotele Square and Venizelou street. Our guide points out that this market is really a local market that sells a variety of meats, seafood and staples for the regular shoppers. Along with staples, the market also sells many of the specialized products and finished goods locally made from the region and are very popular with locals and tourists alike. We stop by a few of the specialty vendors on the tour and try some of their delicious foods including: A vendor that offers local a popular ring bread called a Koulouris with a yogurt-like drink called Ayran that is a very popular drink and staple for all meals. The drink is an acquired taste like a typical cold yogurt but more in a thin watery consistency and salty – it’s definitely an acquired taste.
Here are a few more photo highlights of Central Market:
The market area is expansive with many areas designated for fish, meats and specialty purveyors. We tour the main artery and some of the smaller and busy alleys with stops along the way to some of the specialty purveyors. We sample the many varieties of delicious olives from an olive vendor and then enter a sweet shop that offers all the sweet candies and sweets like Halva and the sweet gooey Turkish delight version of fruit jellies that are also very popular in Thessaloniki. Of course we also had to try a variety of flavored ouzo or tsipouro at a the local ouzeris in the marketplace and I’m surprised by the many flavors offered outside of the traditional licorice inspired liquor.
We walk through an area with many meat stalls and cured meat vendors displaying delicious looking home-made sausages and cured meats for sale. I’m so tempted in taking some home, but decide not to since prepared meats are typically restricted from import to the US. Fortunately, I did get to taste many of these specialty cured meats while visiting the many cafes and take out places that serve mezedes, – appetizers that are typically offered with the local ouzo liquors.
The Modiano Market
Modiano Market hall is also a popular shopping market located in an ornate but run down building bounded by Aristotelous, Ermou, Vasileos Irakleiou, and Komninon Streets. Filled with authentic seafood and meat stalls, the market smells of fresh caught Aegean delicacies and fish, local meat and finished products, fresh produce and delicious pastry shops that are frequented for their famous Spanikopita and feta cheese pies.
Thessaloniki Kapani Market
The carpenter and herb areas around Central market are very colorful and filled with specialty shops and local craftsmen making a variety of basketry and furniture from the region.
Greeks are cheese lovers and you can see it in many of the mezedes ( Greek appetizers) and entrees in the local dishes served throughout the cafes and bars in Thessaloniki. There are many varieties to choose from especially the most well-known, feta. This salty cheese made from goat’s milk is aged and stored in barrels that are filled with brine for a few months or so. Feta is celebrated in the many casseroles, fried pastries and of course Greek Salads that are a classic dish served as an appetizer dish. Other popular local cheese made and sold in the various cheese and deli shops include Manouri which is a cream cheese typically used for pastries like spanakopita and Kasseri cheese which is a medium yellow cheese aged for about four months before storing. Below, our guide lets us sample some of the local Mozzarella type of cheese along with local specialties, dolmas and assorted fried cheese breads.
At the same deli shop, we sampled the owners local version of a Thessaloniki bean stew (for some reason called ‘Tanomenos tsorbas’ which was perfect for the very cool morning we were touring around the city in – it’s definitely the perfect winter seasonal soup for the area with every cook creating their own spin from recipes passed down from the generations of families making this traditional soup.
A must do sandwich to try in the city, Thessaloniki boasts a plethora of souvlaki (a traditional pork or lamb sandwich) take out or fast food style eateries all over the city with inexpensive food. There are too many to choose from in the city, but if you want to look for the best souvlaki stands in the city you might want to ask a local since everyone has their own favorites. Typically served with large fries, an order also comes with lettuce, tomato and onions and usually with some tzatziki (a greek yogurt sauce)
Sweet Thessaloniki pastries
Greek pastries are a favorite pastime for Thessaloniki locales with a perpetual sweet tooth. You can easily get into the act by visiting any of the popular pastry shops that feature yummy and super sweet specialties like trigona which is a syrup-soaked baklava stuffed with cream – oh so good. You can try these handmade sweets at Ellinikon pastry shop
Foods you must try in Thessaloniki now
So you want to live like a local and eat the same amazing food they enjoy every day? Make sure that you try some of these specialty foods and street food below and you will really love the food here.
1) Try the street food and enjoy a nice Gyro or Souvlaki from the many take out places around the city.
2) The coffee culture is very popular in Thessaloniki so enjoy the morning with a nice strong Greek coffee and a plate of bougatsa – the traditional Greek pie filled with cheese, custard, minced meat or spinach.
5) In the mood for a sweet pastry, drop into any of the sweet dessert shops and order a trigona which is a syrup-soaked baklava stuffed with cream – it’s so good
6) Enjoy a late evening in a Greek Bouzoukia or local club which is a very popular place to enjoy the nightlife and see the locals enjoy an evening out. Check out how locals enjoy a club and what a Bouzoukia is like here.
7) There are so many popular Greek Tavernas worth trying out in the center of town, take a look at some of these popular tavernas in Thessaloniki.
Not only is Thessaloniki a wonderful city for food focused delights and experiences, it is also a city filled with amazing historical landmarks and Unesco World Heritage sites. You can preview some of these stunning landmarks and monuments in my recent post giving a first impression of the city here.
Thanks so much for checking out my post on the Thessaloniki food: culinary capital and food discovery tour. I hope you enjoyed the tour and if so, please do share it with any of the social media buttons below and on the side, thank you. Thanks so much for the food tour sponsored by the Thessaloniki Tourism board, all opinions and thoughts are my own and these markets and specialty purveyors are definitely worth a visit when you come to this city.